Remarks to the National Network of Electro-Optical Manufacturing Technologies Conference
9 February 1998

Keith Hall
Director of the National Reconnaissance Office

Thank you for the kind introduction. It was hard to leave the endless freezing February rain of Washington D.C. to come all the way out to Tucson, but I decided to make the sacrifice for this group. There are two meccas of Electro-Optics in this country: one is in the Northeast; the other is right here in Arizona. Given the season, I congratulate you on your astute choice for this event.

Of course, I would attend no matter where you decided to hold the conference. As Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) , I feel a particularly close relationship to the electro-optical industry. This industry and NRO programs have enjoyed mutually beneficial initiatives for over 30 years; the industry continues to be critical to what we do today; and it is essential to our plans for tomorrow.

Along those lines, I would like to salute Congressman Jack Murtha -- a longtime supporter of a robust national reconnaissance capability and the man whose vision helped form the National Network of Electro-Optical Manufacturing Technologies. This and future focus efforts will help assure continued robustness in our electro-optical capabilities.

Today I would like to talk about E-O and the importance of Imagery Intelligence -- IMINT -- to our national security. I feel a little uncomfortable as the Director of NRO -- the Nations eyes and ears in space -- focusing solely on IMINT. Signals Intelligence [or SIGINT], Communications Intelligence [or COMINT], and all of the other "INTs" that are part of our operations are just as critical to our national security. Indeed, they work in concert with imagery to accomplish our intelligence objectives. In deference to this group, however, I will focus primarily on imagery and the value of imagery to this country.

At the National Reconnaissance Office, like the rest of government, the reality is that our budgetary resources are limited. Someone once said - -"It's hard to reach for the stars, when you are clutching your wallet!" We now must make choices about which capabilities we will pursue -- long gone are the days of buying whatever capabilities the state of technology will permit. To manage our budget, we must make decisions about what technology we need and what capabilities we can afford. That often means we have to quantify the value of satellite reconnaissance to this country. This is a difficult task. How do you explain what an image from space is worth? We've all heard the old saw "a picture is worth a thousand words." But that is certainly a gross underestimate, particularly when you consider that in Washington a thousand words won't even answer a simple question. So today I would like to try to give you a better explanation, starting with some history.

History and Significance of IMINT

It's hard to believe that only 40 years ago the US space program was in its infancy with no successful satellites or anything else put into space. Those early years were plagued with problems. In one launch attempt, the rocket went suborbital and a piece of debris landed in Cuba killing a cow. Castro filed a complaint at the UN the US team quickly dubbed the incident "the herd shot round the world."

After numerous unsuccessful attempts, the first image from space floated toward earth in August of 1960. Captain Harold Mitchell, piloting a C-119 flying boxcar, snagged the parachute in midair on his third pass. The film was from the first photoreconnaissance satellite, the CORONA. That image was worth a Distinguished Flying Cross for Captain Mitchell - - and I would venture to guess that quite a few other careers were made on that day, as well.

It is hard to calculate what that first image was worth to the President and the nation's top military and civilian national security advisors. The airfields, missile bases, and nuclear facilities of the Soviet Union had dropped from view abruptly several months earlier, when Francis Gary Powers' U-2 was shot down. For months we had no idea what Khruschev was doing, planning, or building. Think of the concern we have today when Saddam Hussein bars UN inspection teams from Iraq for a few weeks. Increase that by several orders of magnitude. There was intense demand for that first image from space. When we developed the canister of film, we found that one satellite mission had successfully photographed more of the Soviet Union than all previous U-2 flights combined.

As the Cold War progressed, IMINT played a key role in keeping the peace. It told us what Soviet capabilities were so we could gauge our own defenses accordingly. Before we had space-based reconnaissance, we were greatly overestimating Soviet strength. We were spending money we didn't need to spend to counter imaginary capabilities. So what we spent on satellites, we probably saved several times over in defense spending.

Beginning in the 70s, IMINT was a key tool for verifying arms control treaties with the former Soviet Union and helping to wind down a dangerous nuclear arms race. Those agreements -- which would not have been possible without a space-based monitoring capability -- have formed the backbone for peace in the latter part of this century.

Importance of IMINT and E-O Technologies Today

Today, it is still difficult to calculate the worth of a satellite image. Advances in electro-optics have opened up an astounding world of new possibilities and capabilities. Of course, 'possibilities' and 'capabilities' are two things that I can't talk about in any detail. However, I can give you an idea of what those capabilities mean to the United States in the post-Cold War world.

Those images from space allow our national leaders to build foreign policy on a remarkably solid, broad, and detailed foundation of information. They continue to guard the peace. Imagery intelligence also makes it less likely that the US will be drawn into international conflict by providing early warning when other countries are preparing for hostilities. Sometimes that warning can give US policy makers and diplomats the time they need to avert a war.

When conflict can't be avoided, NRO satellite systems help protect our troops. Imagery intelligence is there wherever US troops are deployed -- the Persian Gulf, Haiti, Bosnia. Information from satellites helps reduce casualties and greatly increase the odds that our military mission will succeed. Imagery does this in a number of ways.

IMINT warns of hidden dangers -- on a near real time basis. Imagery information supports precision-guided weapons and bomb damage assessment. And, it reduces potentially deadly confusion by telling our troops precisely where they are in relation to the enemy and in relation to our own forces.

Real-time imagery capabilities provided by E-O and other technologies is causing a revolution in warfare. Eliot Cohen, writing in Foreign Affairs in 1996, compared this revolution to the change from battleship to carrier in being able to fight at great distances. He said:

"A military cliche has it that what can be seen on the modern battlefield can be hit, and what can be hit will be destroyed. Whereas at the beginning of this century this applied with deadly certainty only to front line infantrymen, it now holds not only for readiness on the front lines but for supporting forces in the rear." He goes on to point out that " ... as all countries gain access to the new forms of [space based reconnaissance and unmanned aerial vehicles], hiding large scale armored movements or building up safe rear areas chock-a-block with ammunition dumps and truck convoys will gradually become impossible."

The Gulf War was a watershed event that made us realize the remarkable possibilities of these technologies for tactical support to warfighters. There were problems to overcome -- primarily problems of the dissemination of imagery and information to the field. Nevertheless, DESERT STORM taught us much about the value of real-time space support to military operations. Satellite reconnaissance was a major factor in the rapid US victory. That victory demonstrated to the world the meaning of space dominance -- believe me, we don't ever want to find out what it means to lose space dominance.

Since the Gulf war, we have made tremendous progress in improving our intelligence support to the warfighter. E-O made much of this progress possible by enabling high volume collection and near real-time capability. This allows us, for example, to provide up-to-date imagery and targeting information to every pilot on every sortie. We are developing -- in fact testing -- a system of feeding this data directly into the cockpit as a pilot is en route to the target.

Advances in electro-optics also give NRO systems a unique advantage in countering what we refer to as the transnational threats: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism. These are global threats that can emerge anywhere at any time. To counter global threats we need global capabilities, including satellites that can quickly provide US decision makers with the imagery and information they need to respond to a crisis. Once again, E-O makes what we do possible. Let me give you a few examples:

Perhaps the greatest threat we face today is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the ballistic missile systems to deliver them. Over two dozen countries now have such weapons programs. The high volume and high quality of imagery that we can produce thanks to E- O technologies gives us a very effective way to discover nuclear programs, gauge their progress, and to track the shipment of materials and components. Satellite reconnaissance acts to reduce the threat by monitoring compliance with arms control treaties and various sanctions regimes.

If not for imagery from our space systems, we would know a lot less about the weapons programs of Saddam Hussein and Kim Chong Il. Undoubtedly, these programs would be more advanced and more dangerous than they are today. In the case of North Korea, we were able to provide early warning that the North was developing a nuclear program. As a result, the US was able to negotiate an end to nuclear development.

IMINT also helps to reduce the terrorist threat to US citizens and interests. It can help to locate terrorist camps and facilities and provide other information that helps us to track terrorists.

In addition to supporting military operations and countering transnational threats, imagery makes an enormous contribution in other, nontraditional areas.

During humanitarian crises, satellites monitor refugee flows and provide information to facilitate international aid. These systems also document war crimes by detecting mass graves and other evidence of atrocities.

Imagery satellites are also turning out to be a tremendous tool for environmental scientists. Imagery is being used to create a comprehensive global base of information on environmental conditions. Satellites also provide strategic warning of environmental threats and can monitor environmental treaties and agreements.

Another nontraditional area for NRO systems is support to civil authorities in coping with natural and manmade disasters, including hurricanes, floods, forest fires, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Within hours after a disaster strikes, the Intelligence Community can provide unclassified maps and other products derived from classified imagery. These maps save hours of field work by giving an overview of damage to roads, bridges, buildings, and power infrastructure. By quickly pointing disaster relief workers to areas of greatest distress, these maps can save lives and property.

The NRO and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency have also made an impact in the field of medicine by sharing technology. Technologies developed to help us spot changes in satellite imagery -- for example, modifications to a missile site -- are now being used to help doctors detect changes in mammograms that could indicate breast cancer. The use of these technologies with digital mammography promises to greatly enhance our ability to detect cancers at the earliest stages. This could give millions of women much better odds of beating the disease.

I have just given you a partial list of what NRO systems can do for this country. Today many of these things are taken for granted. We have raised a generation ofleaders who have come to rely on a wide array of space services as a routine matter of business. As we have introduced new capabilities, we have managed to maintain the continuity of services, basically without interruption. Our leadership has come to expect that these services will always be there. They don't give them a second thought. It's really a testimony to the effectiveness of the government- industry team that delivers these marvelous capabilities to our national leadership. Capabilities that would make any foreign leader's eyes water are just a routine part of the US national security "tool kit."

Industry-Government Partnership

Let me turn now to that industry-government partnership:

During the first era of space reconnaissance -- from the 1960s to the 1980s -- Government requirements drove the technical state of the art in Electro-Optics. Actually, the term "government requirements" is a pretty mild description of what went on. What we had was the President and his top national security advisors squinting and frowning at those early, fuzzy images of large Soviet construction sites and demanding to know precisely what the Soviets were building. The Director of Central Intelligence and the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office were ordered to do whatever was necessary to deliver higher resolution imagery on a more timely basis. They, in turn, marshalled the best minds in private industry to the task. That intense pressure drove E-O research and experimentation at a headlong pace. Many of the advances that came out of this process then filtered out into the commercial world.

During the 1990s we are seeing a transformation. Today, commercial and consumer sector requirements are driving many state-of-the-art E-O technologies. It is impossible to be in the space business and not see the thundering herd of commercial satellites on the horizon. This is an exciting development and will play a large role in the future of space. We not only have commercial imagery satellites, we are also seeing tremendous growth in the popularity of consumer items that use digital E-O technologies, including cameras and videocams.

We are achieving a balance that will be beneficial for both government and industry. Innovations, such as large ultra-lightweight optics and structures, that came out of the world of classified imagery will continue to fuel the growth of new high technology industries. At the same time, the NRO can take advantage of commercial technologies to reduce costs and increase efficiency. I anticipate a transformation from a craft type industry, to a manufacturing industry that can deploy national security space systems better, cheaper, and faster. Indeed, this has already begun. National security interests started many space programs; commercial ventures will now dramatically accelerate the development of future space programs.

I want to highlight one specific opportunity made possible by commercial remote sensing systems. Recently, the National Academy of Public Administration, NAPA, conducted a study regarding the application and usefulness of geographic information databases. The results clearly concluded that a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) would provide the United States a decided economic and competitive advantage in the global economy. The study also advocated cooperative activity between government and industry to develop and populate the spatial data infrastructure. I see exciting possibilities here for the electro- optical industry.

Future of E-O and NRO

As we look to the future, the National Reconnaissance Office has one overriding goal -- to help ensure that the US maintains global information superiority. Information superiority means that our leaders will maintain the upper hand in decision making and negotiations, our troops will have a continued advantage on the battlefield, and our high-tech industries will enjoy a continued edge in the international marketplace.

The Future Imagery Architecture [or FIA], will be an integral part of future information superiority. It is the product of an exhaustive survey of our imagery users. We took a close and critical look at customer needs that are not now being fulfilled. We resolved to fill those gaps in the future. FIA is an advanced program that will replace existing systems with a mix of smaller satellites that will provide better performance, more tailored service to our customers, and reduced costs. FIA will use advanced technology conceived and developed by many of the people here today. Also, under consideration is the possibility of joint development with key allies. It is becoming ever more likely that in future conflicts, the US will fight side by side with coalition partners. As many of our allies are contemplating their own overhead systems, there may be solutions where we jointly develop an architecture. We could deliver a more responsive capability than if we each go it alone.

As you well know, the collection is only one part of the picture. Imagery is made useful by the way it is processed, stored, compressed, disseminated, displayed, and manipulated. Our job is to deliver useful information into the hands of our customer -- whether that customer is the President of the United States or a pilot approaching a target in Bosnia. Depending on the user, that information may come in the form of a picture, it may come as text analysis based on imagery, or it may be an unclassified map derived from imagery. I know that you are collectively making great strides in these areas. I can only urge you on to greater accomplishments, because the demand for imagery and specialized imagery products will grow exponentially.

This is particularly true in the area of US military planning and operations. In the future, our imagery and other space assets will be an even more important part of military planning and operations than they are today. Working with our partner, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency new dissemination techniques and new imagery products will soon help to give US military commanders in the field a complete, real- time view of the battle space. Moving target indication -- or MTI -- will allow us to track moving targets from space. We are now working with the Air Force and DARPA, to develop this capability. These unique imagery products and applications will give our warfighters an incredible advantage that any enemy would find extremely difficult to overcome.

To sum up, our space capabilities are the nation's 911 system -- on call 24 hours a day -- ready to respond instantly to a request for an image from any part of the globe. But they are more than just that; they are also a tremendous boon to US world leadership, technological robustness, and economic competitiveness. I think we can all take immense pride in these capabilities. I salute all of you in the Electro-optical industry who are helping us achieve the goal of imagery collection on demand, anytime, anywhere. You play a tremendous role in making our space systems the envy of the world. Thank you.